Routes of Romance I

Routes of Romance I

The end of the Middle Ages was not the end of medieval romance. Early printers included romances amongst their most succesful publications. Some writers mocked romances for their clichéd verse forms, unlikely plot twists and close links to ‘popish’ beliefs about miracles and penance. However, romances from Britain and the continent were widely printed, enjoyed and adapted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They survived amidst the works of Chaucer, who was revered as the founder of an English literary tradition, but also in plays, ballads and cheap reprints. Most tellingly, the structures and language of old romances lie at the heart of some of the most innovative and daring works of what we now call the early modern period.

Geoffrey Chaucer included several romances in The Canterbury Tales, from the serious, classical Knight’s Tale to the parodicly lame Tale of Sir Thopas, told by Chaucer’s alter ego. The...

The romance of Gamelyn, from a Canterbury Tales manuscript

The story of Apollonius of Tyre is one of the oldest and most tenacious romance legends, with roots in Greek romances from the third century AD or earlier. Apollonius uncovers the incestuous secret...

Fragments of the Apollonius of Tyre legend

Thomas Lodge’s prose romance Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacy (first published 1590) is best known today as the major source for Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but its own success is...

Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde

Many medieval romances found new life on the early modern stage. Pericles, first performed in 1607 or 1608, is often described as one of Shakespeare’s ‘late romances’. It retells...

Quarto texts of Pericles

As You Like It reshapes the romance tradition inherited from Lodge’s prose romance Rosalynde and, ultimately, the medieval romance Gamelyn, juxtaposing an ‘old’ romance plot of...

As You Like It, from the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays

Various revisions of Ludovico Ariosto’s epic romance Orlando furioso (Mad Orlando) were published between 1516 and 1532. In short, it tells of Orlando’s love for the pagan princess...

Ariosto, Orlando furioso

From its famous opening line, ‘A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine’, Edmund Spenser’s epic-cum-romance The Faerie Queene invokes a rich fabric of romance structures, motifs...

Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Wynkyn de Worde (d. 1534/5), who probably came from Alsace, worked with William Caxton in Westminster. He inherited Caxton’s printing business and later moved to Fleet Street in London. He was...

King Ponthus

The fifteenth century saw a vogue towards rewriting romances in prose, often vastly expanding their already intricate plots. Many French prose romances were read and collected by the English...

Ponthus et la belle Sidoyne

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (vol. I published 1605; vol. II in 1615) affectionately mocks the excesses of romance through its protagonist Alonso Quixano, who falls into madness by reading old...

An English Don Quixote

This is a parody of a parody: William Winstanley’s The Essex Champion: or, The Famous History of Sir Billy of Billerecay, and his Squire Ricardo. It relocates Don Quixote to Essex (Billy's...

An Essex Don Quixote: the story of Sir Billy of Billerecay

This unusual manuscript contains a Latin translation of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. It was written by Sir Francis Kynaston (1586/7–1642), and part of it was published in 1635. This is...

A Latin version of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

Wynkyn de Worde’s 1509 print of Richard Coeur de Lyon is an inexpensive book by comparison with a deluxe manuscript; nevertheless the impression is that a good deal of care went into its...

Wynkyn de Worde's Richard Coeur de Lyon

Origin Stories
Origin Stories
Romance and the Medieval World
Romance and the Medieval World
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Alexander
Empires of Romance: Alexander
The Objects of Romance
The Objects of Romance
Cities under Siege
Cities under Siege
Strange Encounters
Strange Encounters
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
Composing, Writing, Preserving
Composing, Writing, Preserving
The Percy Folio
The Percy Folio
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance II
Routes of Romance II
Romance and the Modern World
Romance and the Modern World